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February 23, 2018

The Golden Age of Women's Hockey

The Canadian women's hockey team lost the gold medal game in a heartbreaker this week. In my estimation they were the better team in the 60 minutes of regulation time despite the Americans being better players individually. Canada really hung on in the overtime and got it to the dreaded and dramatic shootout where USA finally slayed the dragon, ending a 20 year golden drought at the Olympics.

The Americans deserved the win. Most of us only pay attention to one female game every four years, but the Americans having been doing very well against Canada, namely at the World Championships where they have won gold seven times in the last eight tournaments. The Olympic titles over the years have masked the fact the Americans are clearly becoming the dominant hockey nation in women's hockey.

The Americans have really developed some of the top end talent in the world, and even, controversially, left some very impressive talent off the 2018 Olympic roster. Hilary Knight, the Lamoureux twins, Meghan Duggan, Dani Cameranesi to name just a few, are just fantastic hockey players to watch. Maybe it's the massive population advantage USA enjoys. And with this gold medal victory, expect more American girls to take up the game.

The Americans are now so good that they are pushing Canadians to be better. Just like Canada pushed the Americans to this point in the past. The Canadian-American women's game is now one of the most anticipated rivalries in all of hockey.

The problem is the rest of the world is still nowhere near this level of competition. There's a slim chance that a star goalie like Finland's Noora Raty or Switzerland's Florence Schelling could upset one of these teams, but the fact is no other nation is good enough to even the playing field in women's hockey.

The IOC has said that after 2022 they will re-consider women's hockey's future at the Olympic level. If there are still no nations progressing to the level where they can give Canada or USA a run for their money, they will very possibly remove it from the Games.

That would be a real shame for women's hockey all around the world. Without the Olympics it is highly unlikely most of would know who Marie-Phillip Poulin or Hilary Knight are. Without the Olympics it is highly unlikely that female participation levels at all ages would be as high as they are here in Canada, USA and even other nations. Hockey has so many wonderful benefits for our youth, and the fact that that is now extended fully to girls.

And don't think that strong viewership numbers will have NBC or CBC's influential dollars save the women's game. They argued for the IOC to keep the NHLers, too, and well we know how that story ended.

Without that Olympic gold medal game for women's hockey, the golden age of women's hockey will come to a close. And that is a very bad thing for hockey fans and our society as a whole.

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